FAQ: This is IS

“This is IS” is an ethnographic film series created by Annelies Kusters (researcher) and Jorn Rijckaert (camera and editor), consisting of six episodes on the practice and politics of International Sign (IS). It focuses on the uses of International Sign in the context of professional mobility, i.e. how students, teachers, translators, interpreters, performers, presenters, organisers and attendees use International Sign to interact across languages. This series engages with the following questions: What is International Sign? How do people learn it? Is International Sign a language? Should ASL signs be used in International Sign? How does IS work in the context of interpreting? What are the possible futures of International Sign? 

This FAQ is a living document and more questions will be answered about the different episodes and about the film series in general. Please send any questions you have to a.kusters (at) hw.ac.uk. We are also very interested in learning how this film series is used in teaching: if you have discussed one or more episodes in a classroom, please get in touch! 

What is each episode about?

Why did you make six films, and why do they have different lengths?

Should I watch the episodes in the correct order?

Does the series cover the full spectrum of IS use?

How do you portray IS use in relation to diversity of deaf participants?

(Episode One) How did you select the protagonists?

(Episode One) What methods were used to study opinions about changes in IS signing?

(Episode One) How did the editor work with the video materials created through these different methods?

(Episode One) How did you select examples to illustrate the interview quotes? 

Was there no script for the films at all?

(Episode One) Ethnography means “being there”. How do you translate that onto the screen?

What did you do about sound in the films?

What decisions did you make about subtitling?

Questions for discussion

These are sample questions to discuss when using the films in a classroom.

Episode One: International Sign Unpacked

  • What is International Sign?
  • In what way does successful communication in IS rely on shared cultural frameworks?
  • Does online IS learning prepare people for using IS face to face?
  • When does fingerspelling help, and when doesn’t it help?
  • When does mouthing help, and when doesn’t it help?
  • What are some potential issues with facial expressions in IS?
  • “Visual signing” or “gesturing” is described as crucial and core to IS, but it also takes more time. How does this impact its use in IS?
  • How are fingerspelling, mouthing, the use of Google Translate, writing on a board, and text on PPTs linked to each other for understanding?
  • What are the various reasons to use or not use ASL in IS?
  • How does IS change over time in a group?
  • Is IS use in the group less diverse at the end of the course, or is it more diverse? In what ways?
  • Did students converge on their use of ASL in IS? 
  • How do the students support each other’s learning?
  • In what ways do some participants have a head start over others in terms of IS use?
  • How do the teachers try to steer the students’ signing, and to what extent? 
  • Do you note examples of racism, language shaming, and linguicism? 
  • Is there consistency between what people say about ASL, and how they treat ASL?
  • How are misunderstandings, adaptations, repairs and exchanges of different signs reflected in different styles of subtitling (or not subtitling) throughout the film?
  • At the end of the course, is IS treated as a language like other sign languages?
  • What different styles or types of IS (and their audiences) do the students distinguish between by the end of their course?

Episode Two: Is this International Sign?

  • How are the concepts “international”, “international people” and “International Sign” used by the people in the film? What/who do these concepts refer to? How is this in contrast with the meanings of the concepts in Episode 1?
  • What are responses towards ASL and feelings about ASL among the people interviewed for this film, and how are these associated with the history of ASL in Africa?
  • What is the perceived function of ASL in international encounters within Africa and with non-Africans? 
  • What is the perceived function of KSL in international encounters within Africa and with non-Africans? 
  • In the DOOR campus, there are spaces to separate languages, and spaces to calibrate (or mix) languages: explain?
  • Are people able to keep sign languages strictly separate in contexts of translation work? What are strategies to keep sign languages separate?
  • How does a long period of collaboration between India and Kenya influence signing in Kenya and the translation work in Kenya?
  • Would you call the mix of sign languages that people use, and the strategies they employ in international signed communication, “International Sign”? Why or why not?